Photo: eddie.welker, Flickr
Melons are not having a good start to the season. A mass recall of 4,992 cartons of Del Monte cantaloupes was issued in seven western states last Tuesday due to potential Salmonella outbreak at their Asunicion Mita farm in Guatemala, according to the company's press release. But this isn't the first time melons have posed a health risk.
The Food and Drug Administration notes that between 1996 and 2008, 13 out of 83 infected types of fresh produce were melons, and 10 were cantaloupe. Ray Costa, a registered sanitarian and food safety education advocate, tries to explain why in Food Safety News.
Melons are basically ground dwellers. If you've seen a melon grow, you know it spends all of its time resting idly on dirt, which is fine if it's picked as soon as it's ripe. "Animals such as deer, coyotes, raccoons, rodents, feral pigs, and birds are attracted to the crop at this stage," writes Costa. From there, melons generally aren't washed before going to packaging and off to consumers, who do their de facto shake-sniff-knock ripe-check at the grocery store and may not even wash their fruit at home.
As for the "protective" rind? Not so. "Until recently, experts assumed little or no growth of bacteria could occur on the hard outer surfaces of a cantaloupe," writes Costa, "but recognized that the netted exterior provided an excellent site for the attachment of bacteria." Researchers also now know that Salmonella can penetrate that exterior, "even when no bruising occurs," he notes. So what's a consumer to do?
Check the country of origin on the fruit -- there are flimsier food safety laws outside the U.S. Also, be gentle -- try not to knock them around too much in the store and don't buy one that's too ripe or damaged. Place it in a bag in the produce department, then wash your hands -- and the melon -- at home and replace the bag with a clean one before storing in the refrigerator.